Today, while visiting dad, an aide I’ve never met came into his room and quietly said, “I really liked the letter you wrote about your dad’s care.” Hmmm, I asked if she’d seen it and she said no, but they’d all heard about it.
In spite of that, we’ve had some nice times together the past few days. The weather has been nice enough to go out for walks, enjoy the flowers and talk about his past gardens. I need to get back to scanning his slides so we’ll have something to do/talk about when it gets colder.
I have kept for many years, a column written by a Boston Globe columnist, Donald Murray. I’ve reprinted it below (with the hope that I’m not breaking any copyright rules…). He died in December, 2006.
NOW AND THEN
Making the most of a nursing home visit
I used to be uncomfortable visiting a nursing home. Will the person I visit recognize me? Will I be able to understand what the patient says? Will the patient be able to understand what I say? What can I say to someone finishing a life in a nursing home?
I’m not uncomfortable anymore. Twice a day, I drive out to Kirkwood Corners to visit Minnie Mae. She didn’t want to suffer dementia and need assisted living — and I didn’t want her to leave home. It wasn’t a matter of choice. She needed more care than I could give her. Simple as that.
I have learned many lessons that work for me. Other people do it differently. Sarah Marschner spends so many hours visiting her mother at Kirkwood that she may grow angel wings. I admire her dedication, but long visits would not be right for me.
Keep it short. I visit twice a day for 5 to 15 minutes. Long, coherent conversations are not possible. And the attempt exhausts Minnie Mae, who feels she should entertain me.
Don’t hover. You can see patients looking fearful when visitors hover. Where will she go next, what’s she trying to do now, what will she do next, what should I do to make her stop flitting? I pull up a chair that puts me on the same level as Minnie Mae, cross my legs, smile, and make my body say, “I’m relaxed, you be relaxed, too.”
No inquisition. Don’t start a visit by asking, “How are you? Did they lance the boil? Could they find your shoes?” Patients may not know but think they should. If they can’t answer, they feel as if they have flunked a test.
Put the patient on the sidelines. Peggy and Ed Drouin taught me that the three of us could have the normal conversations the four of us have had for years about hockey, politics, religion. Minnie Mae watches and joins in if she wants to. No pressure on her. If she has something to say, she’ll say it.
Touch. Some of the best visits we’ve had have been silent. Minnie Mae explores the new galaxy to which she has been assigned. I silently rehearse my novel. But we hold hands, speaking by touch, grip, stroke. We are not alone. We are together even though she lives in Kirkwood Corners and I live in our new condo.
Don’t play nurse. The staff knows better than you how to help Grandma get to the toilet, dress, and cut up the turkey slice on her plate.
Don’t follow the patient’s logic. There is no logic, no trail to follow through this dark forest. The loved one doesn’t need intellectual understanding but needs love, comfort, caring, support.
Don’t correct what they say. What difference does it make if Mother has really not come back to life in Kentucky, if we are really not on a plane trip to London for the CIA, if we don’t own a pack of strawberry dogs that need to be fed?
I have found, to my surprise, that there is something pure about our visits. We are not worrying about the trivialities of our former life: Does the car need to be washed? Is it time to change the bed? Which TV show should bore us tonight?
We are together, touching. All our other problems have fallen away. We are here to comfort each other and share the life we have lived together for 53 years.